By Lisa Freeman Williams
Advocates for educational equality for the over 280,000 Black students in Ohio’s public school are taking The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (ODEW) to task for the unequal annual performance expectations for Black students-57.2 per cent compared to 85.1 per cent for their white counterparts. Critics argue that these glaring disparities not only undermine the principles of equal education but also directly violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment, the 1954 landmark US Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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In May of 2023, the National NAACP General Counsel filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights affirming the organizations disagreement with these disparate benchmarks. President Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has been alerted by the State Task Force on Best Academic Practices for Black Children of the ODEW’s unequal expectations. Unfortunately, the response is the same as the one handed down by the previous administration’s Education Department. This policy misalignment is in direct contradiction to President Biden’s October 19, 2021, Executive Order on White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.
The Brown v. Board of Education decision, delivered by the United States Supreme Court in 1954, was a historic ruling that marked the end of state-sanctioned racial segregation in public schools. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the Court, famously stated, “Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
The decision was a crucial step toward establishing equal educational opportunities for all children, regardless of their race. However, recent revelations about the significant gaps in academic expectations between Black and white students in Ohio have raised concerns about the state’s commitment to fulfilling the guarantees of Brown v. Board of Education.
According to the data obtained from ODEW the average annual performance goals for Black students in Ohio is 57.2, a figure that is shockingly lower than the 85.1 set for their white counterparts. These numbers have sparked outrage among community leaders, activists, and parents who are now demanding immediate action to rectify the situation.
“This blatant discrepancy in annual performance goals is a clear violation of the principles enshrined in the Brown v. Board of Education decision,” says Ohio NAACP State Conference President Tom Roberts a former member of the Ohio General Assembly, having served in both chambers and a prominent advocate for educational equality. “The promise of equal educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their racial background, should be at the forefront of our education system.”
The State Task Force on Best Academic Practices for Black Children, call for concrete steps to be undertaken to not only address the immediate disparities but also to implement long-term measures that promote equity and fairness in education. Foremost being pursuing best academic practices for Black children.” There are schools and districts in Ohio that are operating at the A, B, and C level in terms of proficiency for Black kids. ODEW needs to ensure that other districts are emulating those practices.” states WilliiAnn Moore, former educator, American Federation of Teachers representative and Task Force member.
Legal experts emphasize that the Brown v. Board of Education decision set a precedent that obliges states to provide equal educational opportunities to all students. The disparities in academic expectations revealed in Ohio highlight the urgent need for a comprehensive examination of educational policies and practices to eliminate systemic biases.
As the controversy unfolds, advocates for educational equality are calling on the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce to conduct a thorough review of their academic benchmarks, ensuring that they align with the principles of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The outcome of these efforts will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the future of education in Ohio and may serve as a catalyst for similar reviews in other states grappling with issues of racial inequity in education.
Parents and caregivers to Ohio Black students, concerned family and community members are encouraged to join the fight and to stand up for EQUAL educational opportunities for Black students are encouraged to sign the pledge at https://ohnaacp.com/education-action or https://wtfweighthefacts.org/educational-equality.